Two Memoir Course Syllabi from Poet and Professor Jeff Gundy

Melanie Springer Mock contributed our first course syllabus, and now, I am happy to say, we have two more from Professor Jeff Gundy of Bluffton University. Jeff has published numerous books and poems. His latest collecton on Amazon is Spoken among the Trees, which you can check out by clicking on the book cover.

Jeff’s class inspired one of his students to write her own book. I will be reviewing that book in my next post. The syllabi here lose some of their formatting in this software, but I think you can get all the content!

The two syllabi are from the same course, but since they include different book lists, I will do one syllabus but two lists.

Syllabus: ENG 305                                                                                                    Spring 2009

Advanced Writing: Nonfiction (Memoir: Spiritual and Otherwise)                     Jeff Gundy

Tuesday 6:30-9:15 Cent 207                                                 ext. 3283 or gundyj@bluffton.edu

 

“What can any [one] say when he speaks of thee? But woe to them that keep silence–since even those who say most are dumb.”

            -St. Augustine, Confessions Book One, Chapter IV

Because inside human beings

Is where God learns.

            -Rainer Maria Rilke, “Just as the Winged Energy of Delight”

    Say this is enough, right here, right now.

   That you will learn to want

    only what you have.

   Go ahead. Try.

       -Julia Levine, “On the 12:50 Out of Fairfield”

  

Reading List:

 Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art. 8th Mountain, 2002.

Annie Dillard, The Annie Dillard Reader. HarperPerennial, 1994. 

Annie Dillard and Cort Conley, Eds., Modern American Memoir. HarperPerennial, 1995 

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies. Anchor, 1999 

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation. New Directions, 1961.

Scott Russell Sanders, A Private History of Awe. North Point, 2006.

 At least since St. Augustine, writers have been reflecting memorably on their lives and journeys, spiritual and physical, in the form of memoir. This course will involve writing and reading personal essays that reflect on and refract our lives, using the mirrors and lenses of memory, observation, narrative, and reflection. We will read, discuss, and try to emulate writers such as Thomas Merton, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Scott Russell Sanders, Kathleen Norris, and Dave Eggers. These authors cover a broad spectrum from the devoted to the doubting, the earnest to the hilarious, the orthodox to the offbeat—but they share a genuine quest to grasp the deepest truths of their lives and find the best means to express those truths in prose. I hope this class will share that quest, and that range of styles, attitudes, and approaches.

 Some Premises and Postulates

 This course will ask you to do a lot of reading and writing, and to put your absolute best efforts into everything you do for it. But it is also a chance to read–with curiosity and patience—some of the best classic and contemporary writing on spiritual topics, and for us to explore together what it means to be human beings in search of meaning and truth.

 I cannot imagine such an exploration taking place without considerable expenditures of energy, fair amounts of struggle, unavoidable tensions and anxieties, and copious laughter. As Yeats said, “There’s no fine thing / Since Adam’s fall but needs much laboring.” But we can be serious about the work without being solemn.

People possess four things
that are no good at sea:
anchor, rudder, oars
and the fear of going down.
 -Antonio Machado, tr. Robert Bly

I want to suggest, even plead, that you write the most reckless things that come into your head. We may ask questions about how well they work as writing, but we are all free to think any thought, to express any opinion, to question (or affirm) any belief.

 If the writing seems true, authentic, and/or necessary at the moment you put it down, you’re off to a good start. Much of the rest is just tactics and details. It’s crucial not to agonize about how “good” your writing is, especially in the early drafts.

 However, Flaubert famously claimed that God is in the details. We will work hard at polishing and refining our writing, and at developing our sense of how to do so.

 Two large potential impediments to work of this nature are lack of seriousness about the effort on one hand and taking oneself too durn seriously on the other.

Two other debilitating pathologies we will seek to do without: fear of the unorthodox and scorn for the traditional.

Course activities:

 Reading, including quite large chunks for some of the weekly sessions. Some of our texts can be profitably read by dipping into and out of them, but careful concentration, deep response to  selected passages, and broad reading for a sense of larger patterns and effects will be required. We will often look closely at specific passages and aspects of the texts, but your own reading for passages, strategies, and approaches that speak especially to you, and that you can make use of in your own writing, is equally important. Mark the books up as you go!

Regular responses/journals. These will be posted on the Jenzabar Forum and form an important channel for conversation about the readings and preparation for further discussion in class.

One entry each week will be in response to some element of the week’s reading. I hope and expect that from these will come seeds and starting points for your larger writing projects. These entries are due by 2 p.m. each Tuesday that we have class and a reading assignment.

 Another regular element will be “Discovery” entries. These should include brief quoted passages from sources outside our regular reading, with some commentary on why you find them worth bringing to our attention. To receive full credit for this element, make at least one Discovery entry during each month of the course (four in all).

A series of essays in the first half or so of the course. Some will be brief (a page or two), several others more extended (3-5 pages).

 A longer writing project, its form and subject matter to be worked out between us later in the term.

 A review of a book of memoir/spiritual writing.

 A portfolio of revised work at the end of the course (in lieu of a final exam).

 Reading and responding to your classmates’ work, which will be available in the box outside my office (Centennial 318). Plan to spend at least an hour after each essay set comes in browsing through the essays and leaving signed comments on three or four each time. 

Regular attendance and active participation in class activities. Because we meet only weekly, missing even one class session will put you out of synch with the course. Please make every effort to attend all the classes. Grades may suffer from absence.

 Grade Calculations:

 Weekly journals                                  15%

“Discovery” journals                             5%

Book review                                        10%

Final portfolio                                     60%

Attendance, participation,                  10%    

comments on “Box” material              ____

                                                            100%

Tentative Course Outline

Jan. 6 Course introduction. St. Augustine et al. What is memoir? What is spiritual writing? Beginning possibilities.

Jan. 13 Barrington, ch. 1 and 2. Some classics and starting points. Augustine, excerpts;

Modern American Memoirs: Buechner, Gornick. 

Jan. 20 Barrington, ch. 3 and 4. MAM: Ozick, Baldwin. Due: Joining the Conversation essay (brief).

Jan. 27 Barrington, ch. 5. Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation. Due: Narrative/reflective essay (brief).

Feb. 3  Barrington, ch. 6. New Seeds, 2.

Feb. 10 Barrington, ch. 7. Lamott, Traveling Mercies.

Feb. 17 Barrington, ch. 8. Traveling Mercies, 2. Due: Contemplative essay (brief).

Feb. 24 Barrington, ch. 9. Dillard, An American Childhood.

Spring Break

Mar. 10 Barrington, ch. 10. Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Due: Place/nature essay.

Mar. 17 Barrington, ch. 11. Dillard, Holy the Firm Work on longer projects begins. Due: Book review.

Mar. 24 Sanders, Private History of Awe.  

Mar. 31 Sanders, part 2.

Apr. 7 Readings from MAM, TBA.

Apr. 14 TBA. Due: Project Drafts.

Apr. 21 TBA

Final Exam/Celebration

 The 2005 version of this course included this reading list:

Reading List:

Annie Dillard, The Annie Dillard Reader. HarperPerennial, 1994. 

Annie Dillard and Cort Conley, Eds., Modern American Memoir. HarperPerennial, 1995 

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies. Anchor, 1999 

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation. New Directions, 1961.

Dinty Moore, The Accidental Buddhist. Broadway, 1997.

Kathleen Norris, Dakota. Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Cynthia Yoder, Crazy Quilt. Dreamseeker/Cascadia, 2003.

 This course, with special support from the Pathways Project, will explore spiritual writing and memoir. As models and inspiration for our own writing we will read classic and contemporary writers as diverse as St. Augustine, Henry David Thoreau, Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott and Dinty Moore. These authors cover a broad spectrum from the devoted to the doubting, the earnest to the hilarious, the orthodox to the offbeat—but they share a genuine quest to grasp the deepest truths of their lives and find the best means to express those truths in prose. I hope this class will share that quest, and that range of styles, attitudes, and approaches.

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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
This entry was posted in Memoir Workshops, Taking Courses, Workshops, Conferences, Teaching Memoir Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Two Memoir Course Syllabi from Poet and Professor Jeff Gundy

  1. Thanks for sharing this–what a great looking course. I love the spiritual theme and his reading list.

  2. Pingback: When Memory Speaks | 100 Memoirs

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